There is no doubt that Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching prospect Daniel Norris is a cool dude. The Toronto media has previously documented the Haight-Asbury-esque mindset he holds. Certainly, from his surfing skills to the hippie van he lives in, it could be easy to confuse the easy going Norris with any other vagabond beach bum in America.
No one questions his makeup. However, what is in doubt is whether or not the 6’2” left-hander could harness his outstanding potential pitching talents into a full-time Major League position.
Specifically, questions about command and consistency have plagued Norris from the day he was drafted out of Johnson City, Tennessee during the 2nd round of the 2011 draft. That year, draft experts lauded him for his outstanding stuff, but questions stemmed from his apparent inability to consistently repeat his pitching mechanics, which has subsequently affected his command and velocity.
In his first minor league season, the mechanics were clearly an outstanding issue and the results were thusly abysmal. In 2012, he posted a combined 8.44 ERA between Rookie League Bluefield and Class Low-A Vancouver, and looked to be very hittable with a 1.78 WHIP and 12.2 H/9. The weak statistical showing had some Blue Jays fans wondering whether or not Norris was the second coming of Kevin Ahrens. Yet, beyond the poor surface statistics there were a few positives to draw from Norris’ debut performance. The combined 9.07 K/9 and 3.81 FIP he posted that year showed that there was still a lot of potential for him to be a solid, if not exceptional, pitcher.
In 2013, Norris set about on a seemingly make-or-break season trying to answer these questions. After another abysmal start to the season the results were not immediately inspiring, but with the help of minor league pitching coach Vince Horsman the results gradually began to turn around. By the end of the season, Norris had a very respectable combined 3.97 ERA between Class A Lansing and High-A Dunedin, supported by a much more reasonable 1.44 WHIP and 8.4 H/9. He also managed to increase his K/9 to 9.9 and post an even lower FIP at 3.48.
With everything seemingly going right for Norris following the 2013 season, the questions shifted from “Can he do it?” to “Can he do it consistently?” So far in the early going, the results this season seem to indicate that he certainly can. Over his past two starts for Dunedin, Norris has been living up to the status of a top-flight pitching prospect. Norris has allowed only nine base hits and walked only one batter to go with 11 strikeouts, good for a miniscule 0.82 ERA and 1.47 FIP over 11 innings.
Keeping in mind that it is a small sample size, Norris is off to a very promising start this season in Dunedin. If all continues to go well for him, Blue Jays fans could expect to see him finishing off the season in New Hampshire with his eyes set on a call-up for the 2015 season. While all the prospect hype was firmly on Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman this offseason, Norris should not be overlooked. He has begun to really put his past issues behind him and should emerge as a key-piece in an organization that desperately needs to develop homegrown starting pitching talent.
I, for one, applaud the efforts of Norris and believe, in tribute to his free-spirit, that he is well on the road towards his own Shambhala in the Major League halls of Toronto’s Rogers Centre.